Bears have Super Bowl hangover

By Kevin Olsen

What a difference a year makes. The Chicago Bears looked poised to break the trend that has seen Super Bowl losers regress in their next season. They returned a stacked defense loaded with speed and a slew of Pro Bowlers. They bolstered one of the best special teams units in the NFL and their offense looked to be average enough to get victories.

But six weeks into the season, their defense is near the bottom of the league and the only player on their team showing any consistently good play is Devin Hester. The result has been a 2-4 start, including losses to the Lions and Vikings, and a team searching for answers to turn its season around. Chicago can look no further than an aging offensive line and a defensive unit that is struggling at all facets of the game.

The Bears’ defense ranked fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per game last season and third in scoring defense. Since then, Tank Johnson got cut, Lance Briggs held out for a bigger contract the majority of the offseason and maybe most importantly, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera left for San Diego. That has left the Bears defense 23rd in the NFL in scoring defense, giving up almost 25 points a game and 27th in the league in yards allowed per game at more than 360.

It’s true their defense has been depleted due to injuries, especially in the secondary where all four opening-day starters have been injured at some point including safety Mike Brown, who is out for the rest of the season. But injuries are still no excuse for poor play with such a strong front seven that ranks fourth in the league with 18 sacks.

The unit gave up 37 points to the perennial bottom-feeder Lions, including an NFL-record 34 points in the fourth quarter. They already have two home losses in which they gave up 34 points in each defeat with one of them being to the inept offense of Minnesota. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson lit up the Bears defense for 224 yards rushing, the most ever given up by a Bears defense in the organization’s 88-year history. Peterson ended up with 361 all-purpose yards, the third most in league history for a single game.

So while the quarterback play, the blocking of the offensive line and Cedric Benson have struggled, don’t blame the offense for all of the Bears’ problems. The defense has had a lot of shoddy play that has put a lot of strain on the offense to keep up with.

But I can’t talk about the Bears and their disappointing 2-4 start without ripping the offense at least a little bit. I think it can be agreed that there is not a whole lot of difference when it comes to playing Rex Grossman or Brian Griese. Griese has maybe been a little less turnover prone, but neither is very productive with that old offensive line blocking for them.

The Bears have the highest average age for their starting offensive line and it is becoming most evident in their running game. Benson has been very disappointing, but it’s not just his fault. The Bears relied on an aging offensive line, which looks very similar to last year’s unit, to create holes for a different running back. Benson is not as explosive as Thomas Jones, who was traded in the offseason, and is not finding much room to run so far this year.

Everyone says Benson runs better with more carries, but the Bears have not been able to get him a lot of carries because they are falling behind early, and the defense isn’t stopping opponents like it has in the past. Of course, it doesn’t help that Benson can’t aid his own cause by not breaking tackles or creating holes for himself. Not to mention he does not block well for whoever lines up under center.

There are a lot of problems to point fingers at on this Bears team, but the truth is the defense is a big source of all of this.

Bears teams live and die by their defense, and with injury problems and a new defensive coordinator, this team better fix the leak on their side of the ball to avoid the Super Bowl loser’s swoon.

Kevin Olsen is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]